Tag:Maurice Jones-Drew
Posted on: December 12, 2011 2:27 am
Edited on: December 12, 2011 2:35 am
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Sorting the Sunday Pile: Week 14

Posted by Will Brinson


Sorting the Sunday Pile takes all of Sunday's NFL action and figures out the most important storylines for you to digest. Send your complaints, questions and comments to Will Brinson on Twitter. Make sure and listen to our Week 14 podcast review below as well and feel free to subscribe via iTunes.


1. They're Not Saying 'Boooooo' ...

True story: Just over two years ago, T.J. Yates came on the jumbotron at the Dean Dome during a North Carolina game as the lead-in to a UNC football video, said "I'm T.J. Yates and I'm a Tar Heel," and Yates, who was in the crowd, was booed mercilessly by Tar Heel fans in attendance.

One surprisingly strong senior season and a slew of injuries to Houston quarterbacks later, Yates is the starting quarterback for the first Texans team to ever make the playoffs. He's no figurehead, either, as his play in the fourth quarter of Sunday's 20-19 victory in Cincinnati showed.

We think that logic and common football sense says a rookie quarterback can't take a team deep into the playoffs, but does it? This Texans team's success is predicated on running the ball and playing defense.

And that's not too far off what Mark Sanchez and Ben Roethlisberger leaned on as rookies. Both those guys went to the AFC Championship Game, as a rookie quarterback mind you.

Yates is different than those Sanchez or Roethlisberger because he's matured under tough circumstances, his expectations are lower, he didn't leave school early so he's more experienced and he's got good mentors surrounding him on the roster.

If Houston gets into a shootout with an opponent or finds themselves with a huge halftime deficit, they're probably in trouble. But if that happens, it's not on Yates anyway -- the defense and rushing attack probably already let them down.

Just remember that when it comes time to debate the viability of the Texans in the postseason that the rookie quarterback under center is about as viable as the stereotype that the Texans can't stop anyone on defense.

2. Where It's Due in Denver

It's about time, in this LOL-worthy Tim Tebow saga that hit another high with Denver's 13-10 overtime win over Chicago Sunday, to give credit where credit is due. No, not the defense. No, not the running game. No, not the super-human effort from kicker Matt Prater on Sunday. No, not John Fox or John Elway.

Let's give credit to ... Josh McDaniels.

Remember, McDaniels is the guy that drafted Tebow and blossoming receiver Demaryius Thomas. Both might have been reaches when they were taken (25th and 22nd overall, respectively) and both looked like absolutely horrid selections pretty recently. But McDaniels obviously knew something about these guys and his premonitions and talent evaluation is paying off for Denver now.

Look, there are guys that were taken after Tebow and Thomas that are better overall additions to a roster (Dez Bryant, Rob Gronkowski, Devin McCourty stand out), and the value McDaniels wasted at those spots is disappointing. Also, given the Rams struggles on offense this year, handing credit his way isn't exactly the chic thing to do.

But as we get further from his nightmare regime in Denver and more ensconced in Tebowmania, it at least warrants a tip of the cap to McD for his decision to select two guys who are starting to fulfill the expectations that come with their draft slot.

3. Cowboy Down

We spent the better part of the podcast (you can listen above, just by clicking play!) trying to figure out who to blame for Dallas' failings in their 37-34 loss to the Giants on Sunday night.

But since Rex Ryan egged on some defensive coverages, Tony Romo egged on a big third-down throw to Miles Austin and Jason Garrett egged on clock management, isn't it possible that it's a systematic issue across the team as a whole?

We assume that because there's a new coach running the show, with different coordinators in place and some new players, that things are different. But things just aren't.

Jerry Jones knows this -- with the Giants at the goal line and the clock ticking down, an NBC camera caught him screaming "Timeout, Jason!"

Give credit where credit is to due to Eli Manning and the Giants for clawing their way back into this game, because it was a pretty magnificent comeback, something Eli's becoming quite proficient at this season.

But these Cowboys just can't close. We've seen it over and over this season and at some point, the bossman's patience for a lack of execution is going to run out.

4. Start 'Em/Sit 'Em?

The Packers have, with their 46-16 obliteration of Oakland in Green Bay, now officially clinched a first-round bye. Thanks to the 49ers losing to the Cardinals on Sunday, Mike McCarthy's team is just one win or one San Francisco loss away from clinching homefield advantage throughout the playoffs.

But Sunday's victory came at a price -- star wide receiver Greg Jennings is likely out for the remainder of the regular season. Aaron Rodgers said that "hopefully" the Packers can get Jennings back in time for the team's first playoff game, following their bye, which is approximately five weeks from now.

This begs the question: will McCarthy and Green Bay chase 16-0 with the same fervor as the Patriots?

Losing someone like Jennings is debilitating to their run at repeating as Super Bowl champions, but it's not a dealbreaker because of all the talent they have at the various skill positions. Losing Aaron Rodgers? That's a whole different story.

And what if someone like Charles Woodson or Tramon Williams or Clay Matthews was lost for the rest of the season playing in a meaningless game? Yeah, that would be bad.

There's no right answer that doesn't involve "winning the title" so it's unfair to judge whatever McCarthy and Ted Thompson decide to do. We don't know how things would play out in an alternate universe. But Jennings injury might be a bad sign for the chances at Green Bay running the table.\

5. Familiar Feeling

New England is streaking towards a likely No. 1 seed right now. And they have a  kerfluffle on the sidelines between Tom Brady and his offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien that everyone can talk about. And there's the whole "Can I draft Rob Gronkowski in the second round of my fantasy league next year?" debate that might be worth discussing when going over interesting things about this team. 

But I can't shake the fact that the Redskins piled up well over 500 yards passing between Rex Grossman and Brandon Banks (!) plus 120 rushing yards from Roy Helu and narrowly lost to the Pats 34-27.

Again: the Redskins did this. Back in 2009, New England got throttled by the Ravens in Foxborough, because Baltimore had a stout defense and Ray Rice went HAM on a Pats defense that couldn't shut him down.

This year? The Patriots defense, a season-long problem for the team, reminds a lot of that squad, in that they can't stop anyone who's physical and can play ball control. Or, really, they can't stop anyone -- only four teams have scored less than 20 points against the Pats, and one of those was quarterbacked by Tyler Palko.

There are a lot of good defensive teams headed to the playoffs in the AFC, with a lot of good running backs, and some pretty talented quarterbacks.

Brady and Belichick are great about covering up flaws on a roster, but when they run into a physical team in the playoffs, we might see a similar result from years past.

6. So You're Telling Me There's a Chance?

The 2011 NFL season wouldn't feel right if we didn't get a Lloyd Christmas-inspired false-hope run from the Eagles and Chargers, would it?

The Eagles are still alive after a 26-10 beat down of Miami, although making the playoffs at this point involves jumping a whopping five other teams, and is about as likely as the Eagles retaining Juan Castillo next season.

San Diego's path to the postseason should have been a little bit easier, because the Raiders lost and the Broncos were supposed to lose (see: Tim Tebow doing what Tim Tebow does). Now things are much murkier, as San Diego needs either the Jets -- a team they should have beaten -- to go 1-2 down the stretch, or the Broncos -- another team they should have beaten -- to lose. And the Bolts have to win

8-8 and 9-7, respectively, are doable based for the two teams, based on their schedules. But even that kind of effort might not be enough to save the jobs of certain people in certain positions for these teams.

7. Call It a Comeback, Kid

For the second time this season, four teams in a single week overcame 12-point (or more) deficits to win.

Why? Well, as it turns out, offensive points aren't the only exciting thing that's happened as a result of the offense-friendly rules the NFL installed over the past few years. Comebacks occur more frequently too.

And big comebacks as well -- Atlanta, Jacksonville, Houston and Arizona were all down by 12-plus points and mounted a comeback in Week 14 -- in Week 2, another four teams did it as well.

Limitations on members of the secondary, limitations on defensive players hitting quarterbacks and the middle of the field opening up because of defenseless receiver rules mean teams are able to sling the ball around more frequently.

Defenses simply can't clamp down on teams when they have a lead and if someone takes their foot off the gas (see: the Panthers vs. the Falcons on Sunday), a comeback is absolutely in the cards.

8. Taking Flight

Note to anyone who ends up in a December-only fantasy league: draft Shonn Greene. Dude gets unholy hot when the weather gets cold and he's doing it again this year, with four touchdowns and well over 200 yards the last two weeks, including a career-high 129 rushing yards in a blowout win against Kansas City Sunday.

Not coincidentally, it might be smart to not write off the Jets ever again. Somehow, someway, they manage to win enough games to sneak into the playoffs.

Rex Ryan's crew is doing it again, and even though this rendition of the Jets is clearly inferior to the previous two seasons, it's hard to count them out.

Twice in his two years as head coach, Ryan's used a formula to get to the AFC Championship Game despite fighting uphill to even get into the playoffs. And now he's doing it again.

The Jets last three opponents -- Buffalo, Washington and Kansas City -- are about as cream-puffy as it comes, but you only have to play the people on your schedule. So I'm really not sure why this wasn't as obvious an outcome as Greene being largely irrelevant for fantasy teams until now.

9. Get Your Mojo Running

Lost in some of the fantastic Week 14 action was the fact that the incredibly underrated Maurice Jones-Drew, the only elite skill-position player that the Jaguars have, set the franchise record for career touchdowns, surpassing the also incredibly underrated Fred Taylor.

"Mojo" did it on a day in which he went absolutely b-a-n-a-n-a-s, rushing for 85 yards and two touchdowns, and catching six passes for 51 receiving yards and a pair of scores through the air as well.

“Words can’t really explain how excited I am,” Jones-Drew said.

Jones-Drew's one of the prototypes for the modern NFL back -- small but powerful, quick, great hands and a secret workhorse. (Not to mention he's a stalwart in the community, and a good guy to boot.) Amid an often ugly offensive performance by Jacksonville on a weekly basis, MJD's been insanely consistent in 2011.

Dude deserves some love.

10. Great Expectations

It's fascinating to see that Raheem Morris and Steve Spagnuolo are two guys everyone agrees find themselves firmly on the hot seat. That's because last year, Morris and Spags were a combined one game away from both being in the playoffs last year.

Morris won 10 games with the surprising Buccaneers and even though Spagnuolo went 7-9, he had a shot at winning the putrid NFC West in the final week of the season.

The 17 total wins for the two teams has created a pretty terrible predicament for the coaches who nearly got them to the postseason though: both guys are looking like strong candidates to be fired after the 2011 season.

Tampa Bay lost its seventh-straight game in horrific fashion on Sunday when Blaine Gabbert and the Jags dropped a 41-14 bomb on the Bucs and the Rams are scheduled to start Tom Brandstater against the Seahawks. That will probably not end well.

The point of all this is that the NFL is a what-have-you-done-for-me lately business and Spags and Morris have lost lately. A lot.

Muffed Punts

Leftovers from Sunday's Action ...
... Packers have now scored 466 points on the season, the second-highest total in NFL history through 13 weeks, behind only the Pats 503 in 2007.
... Drew Brees and Johnny Unitas are the only two quarterbacks in NFL history with 40-straight games with passing touchdowns.
... Rob Gronkowski has the all-time record for touchdown receptions in a single season by a tight end with 15.
... Eli Manning's 400-yard passing performance was the 14th over the season, an NFL record.

Worth 1,000 Words


GIF(S) O' THE WEEK

You can see video of KC kicker Ryan Succop executing the worst onsides kick in the history of football right here, but this GIF of the three-yard putt/kick is just mesmerizingly depressing.



And I'm double dipping this week again, as Jabar Gaffney's dive into the seats without being caught is just too much fun to ignore.


Hot Seat Tracker

  • Steve Spagnuolo -- Spags really, really needs a win on Monday night against the Seahawks.
  • Raheem Morris -- As noted above, this team won 10 games last year!
  • Todd Haley -- After righting the ship, the Chiefs are back to sinking. This may be related to "starting Tyler Palko" but still, Haley's the coach.
  • Jim Caldwell -- *stares blankly at Colts record*
  • Norv Turner -- Norv's fanning the hell out of his seat, but the Chargers might not have enough games left to make up for the bad start.

Award Worth Discussing of the Week

Aaron Rodgers has retired the MVP watch and the Colts are locked into Andrew Luck so I'm adjusting on the fly. Today's award worth discussing: Coach of the Year.

I find this race fascinating because you have four primary contenders, all with totally different situations.

There's Mike McCarthy of the Packers, who's threatening to run the table with a defending Super Bowl champ. Then there's Jim Harbaugh, who's made the a talented, underachieving 49ers team relevant again and quickly. They're the two favorites.

Then there's the underdogs: John Fox, who continues to win despite Tim Tebow flying under the radar in terms of media attention, and Gary Kubiak, who will not let a quarterback injury kill his season.

If McCarthy goes undefeated it's impossible not to give him the nod because, well, they didn't lose. But if the Packers falter at all, Harbaugh's sheen could fade enough down the stretch (a loss to Pittsburgh and struggles against Seattle and St. Louis maybe?) to let Fox and Kubes make a play for the award.

My vote, provided things play out the way they have so far, is for Fox, since he's winning with less in a way no one ever saw coming, well ahead of when people believed he'd win.
Posted on: November 21, 2011 2:33 pm
 

Del Rio 'can't speak' to O-coordinator's thinking

Del RioPosted by Josh Katzowitz

While Tony Sparano seems to have cooled down his hot seat just a bit -- a three-game Dolphins winning streak certainly has helped his cause -- Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio isn’t doing himself any favors.

After cutting David Garrard in the preseason and giving the starting quarterback spot to rookie Blaine Gabbert -- who, statistically speaking, is one of the worst quarterbacks in the league -- the Jaguars are 3-7 after their 14-10 loss to the Browns on Sunday.

When asked why Maurice Jones-Drew didn’t get the ball on the final play of the game from the Browns 2-yard line, Del Rio deflected the blame to offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter.

“Our offensive coordinator calls the plays,” Del Rio said, via the Florida Times-Union. “I can’t speak to his thinking. You’ll have to get with him.”

“We certainly talked about those things through the course of the drive. We got down and took our crack. You can make a case for doing that. You can guess any number of plays when you don’t connect. [It’s] a missed opportunity.”

The final minute of the game was a disaster for the Jaguars. After reaching the 5-yard line on a third and one with 45 seconds to play in the game, Jones-Drew gained three yards for the first down. The Jaguars didn’t call timeout there and let 28 seconds run off the clock (that also must have been Koetter’s fault), and after Jones-Drew failed to reach end zone on first and goal, they stopped the clock with 8 seconds left.

Gabbert missed on a fade pass for Jason Hill, and with three seconds to play, Gabbert never looked at Jones-Drew, who was open in the flat, and threw behind Mike Thomas for the incompletion. Game over.

Koetter, you may defend yourself.

“Three of the four plays were our two-point plays -- two passes and one run, so in those last four plays, we gave it to Maurice twice and we had one play action and we had a little option play to Mike Thomas,” he said. “I like all four of those plays.”

That’s fine, but for Del Rio to claim he had nothing to do with the play-call is absurd. Sure, Koetter probably was the one to call the play, but unless Del Rio wasn’t wearing his headset, he knew what had been called. He could have intervened -- he is, after all, still the head coach -- and vetoed the decision. But he didn’t. Instead he let Koetter take the fall.

“We are on the 2-yard line and I have to find a way for us to score,’’ Gabbert said. “That’s on me. I have to learn from that and get better.’’

Now, if only Del Rio could learn from Gabbert in how to share in the blame.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter and subscribe to our RSS Feed.
Posted on: November 18, 2011 10:58 am
 

Johnny Knox says Jay Cutler is no sissy

CutlerPosted by Josh Katzowitz

You remember that whole “Jay Cutler is a pansy” meme that emerged from last year’s Bears NFC title game loss when he sustained a bad knee injury and couldn’t return? You remember when Seahawks defensive end Raheem Brock called Cutler a “sissy” on Twitter and Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew said that Cutler had quit?

Immediately after the game, his teammates defended him, as Chicago linebacker Brian Urlacher said, “A lot of jealous people watching our game on TV when their season is over. Jay was hurt. We don’t question his toughness. He’s tough as hell. He doesn’t bitch, he doesn’t complain when he gets hit.”

It turned out Cutler had torn his MCL, and soon after, apologies were made and Cutler’s toughness was reinforced.

And in order to make sure we all know Cutler is no pansy, Bears receiver Johnny Knox has confirmed it.

“From what I’ve seen, since I’ve played with him, Jay’s one of the toughest players on this team. He takes some of the most hits,” Knox told XTRA in San Diego (via sportsradiointerviews.com). “When I say that, I’m not taking nothing away from the O-Line, but he takes hits and gets back up and is still making plays. As far as people questioning his heart, I believe he has one of the biggest hearts in the NFL.”

Not only that, but his teammates apparently are huge Cutler fans.

“He’s a great teammate. He takes control when he’s in the huddle,” Knox said. “Everybody gives him their attention and we just love to have him as a teammate.”

At this point, you’d have to wonder if Brock (whose quarterback is Tarvaris Jackson) and Jones-Drew (whose quarterback is Blaine Gabbert) would trade their signal-callers for Cutler. I’m guessing both would.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter and subscribe to our RSS Feed.
Posted on: November 10, 2011 9:03 am
 

Is Gabbert playing worse than Tebow?

GabbertPosted by Josh Katzowitz

If you were asked which team currently employed the worst starting quarterback in the league, it’d be an easy answer. Tim Tebow, right? Not even close, yes?

Well, no, not exactly.

As ESPN.com’s Paul Kuharsky reports, on passes that travel less than 10 yards in the air, Jaguars rookie Blaine Gabbert has a 50 percent completion rate, and his passer rating of 60.9 is the worst in the league.

Even worse than Tebow? Yes, apparently.

The article in question wasn’t a comparison between Gabbert and Tebow, but Kuharsky gives an interesting answer regarding the question of why the Jaguars shouldn’t get away from their running game and give Gabbert a chance to show what he can accomplish if he’s throwing down the field. That’s because, according to Kuharsky’s stats, Gabbert is 10 for 10 on screen passes with a quarterback rating of 105. His long-distance passing is somewhat less than that.

And even though running back Maurice Jones-Drew hasn’t been as effective as a pass-catcher this year, there doesn’t seem to be any reason to believe that Gabbert suddenly would become a rookie of the year contender if he began heaving throws down the field, especially considering his top two receivers are Mike Thomas and Jason Hill

But what about Tebow, you ask?

Funny thing, he’s getting more comfortable in the Broncos offense (going 2-1 in your first three starts and having your coach install more of a college-style offense probably doesn’t hurt).

"Our offense is what it is, and we'll continue to run that, but every week we'll continue to game plan new things, just like any team would to try to take advantage of the defense we're going to face," Tebow said, via the Denver Post.
 
So, with Gabbert’s worth falling and Tebow’s worth rising, what can we gather from all this information? Easy, Gabbert is not > Tebow.

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Posted on: October 26, 2011 10:03 am
 

Everyone on Ravens pointing fingers at offense

Posted by Will Brinson

The Ravens looked downright dreadful on the offensive end of things on Monday in their 12-7 loss in Jacksonville. As such, the critics came calling, with many a pundit ripping Joe Flacco and even Baltimore linebacker Terrell Suggs questioning the playcalling after the game.

Suggs was baffled about the number of touches that Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice received. That number -- eight! -- apparently didn't sit well with head coach Jim Harbaugh, who said he's on the "same page" with Suggs re: touches.

"I listen to all of our guys and definitely I listen to Terrell Suggs, especially with the way he’s playing," Harbaugh said. "And then, the things he says are right. But, that’s what we’re trying to do. It’s not like we’re not trying to do the things he’s talking about doing. So, I think we’re all on the same page with that."

So that's not good news for offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. Although our own Mike Freeman reported Wednesday morning that Harbaugh isn't happy about the way Suggs criticized Cameron publicly, so perhaps it's Suggs that should be worried.

Indeed, BaltimoreRavens.com reported late Tuesday that Harbaugh and Cameron huddled up and discussed the offensive problems and determined that everyone's at fault.

"It’s warranted for all of us,” Harbaugh said. "I think we all deserve to have fingers pointed at us when the offense plays like that. That’s tough."

Oh, right, and add Flacco to the list of people that deseve blame, according to Cameron.

"That’s part of our deal," Cameron said. "Heat on me, heat on Joe. The coordinators, quarterbacks, we can all do better. It goes with the territory."

Flacco deserves criticism for making bad throws, of course. But it's not Flacco's fault that the offense is plodding through a late-game situation, or that Rice only got eight carries.

Now, there's an argument that the Ravens weren't moving the ball well on the ground -- Rice averaged just 3.5 yards per carry and Ricky Williams picked up just five yards on three carries.

But the problem with that argument is that 12 total carries for your running backs in a game that doesn't feature more than 19 points is simply illogical. 19 total points means that a game's either a defensive bloodbath or a sloppy offensive game. Either way, mistakes and the other team's opportunities can be mitigated by running the ball and looking to run it more effectively.

Cameron could have worn down the Jaguars defense and limited Flacco's mistakes if he'd simply given Rice the ball more, but for some reason, he didn't feel interested in doing so; when the score of a football game is 6-0 at halftime and still takes two hours to play, something has gone amiss in the respective offensive gameplans.

"Eight carries is never going to be a winning formula for Ray Rice," Harbaugh said. "There is no doubt about it."

Indeed it isn't, and Cameron should probably heed Harbaugh's words and perhaps take a look that the coach had on his face during Baltimore's next-to-last drive of the game. Cameron didn't go with a no-huddle offense initially, and melted nearly 1:30 off the clock with three plays that picked up a whopping 23 yards.

After finally letting Flacco put his foot on the peddle, the offense moved the final 60-plus yards in less than two minutes, scoring their first points of the game.

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Posted on: October 25, 2011 12:38 am
 

Ravens can't contend with offensive inconsistency

Posted by Will Brinson

If you want to sum up Monday night's stinker of a matchup between the Ravens and Jaguars, here you go: Joe Flacco completed a pass to Joe Flacco for negative eight yards.

No, really. That happened.

Both Jacksonville and Baltimore were absolutely abysmal on offense, but eventually the Jaguars prevailed enough to win a super-sloppy 12-7 game at Everbank Field. Maurice Jones-Drew fumbled three times, Jack Del Rio made an inexplicable decision to give Josh Scobee a 51-yard field goal with 1:43 left on the clock and up 9-7, and an even more inexplicable decision to challenge whether or not Flacco stepped out of the back of the end zone.

It might have been -- no hyperbole -- the worst challenge in NFL history. But the Jaguars still won and are somehow only two games back of the Texans in the AFC South. Good on them, but I don't think it matters, because surely no one's going to do as poor a job of showing up as Baltimore.

Which leads us to this: the Ravens, as I wrote last week, have an advantage over most other contenders in the NFL because of their stout defense. All they need is Joe Flacco to take a step forward and become a good-to-great quarterback, and there's no reason why Baltimore can't win the Super Bowl.

Welp, Baltimore's got a problem, because the monstrosity -- Pete Prisco correctly called it "offensive" for the bad reasons -- of a game that Flacco produced on Monday night against the Jaguars was as ugly as they come and exactly why Flacco is so abhorred by many a Baltimore football fan.

"It's about as bad as you can play on offense," John Harbaugh said after the game. "I don't know if you can play any worse than that."

The Ravens picked up their first third-down conversion with 11 minutes remaining in the third quarter. Flacco had eight -- eight -- passing yards with nine minutes left in the third quarter.

On the season, Flacco's now vacillated wildly in his performances throwing up his second road stinker against an inferior team, and making it anyone's best guess as to whether or not he'll show up on offense. Flacco's passed for 224 yards, 197 yards, 389 yards, 163 yards, 305 yards and now 137 yards.

That's only consistent in that he's predictably down after he's been up. And, yeah, the Ravens won a Super Bowl with Trent Dilfer at quarterback and a historically impressive defense.

But the Jaguars were begging for Baltimore to take this game away from them, and the Ravens simply refused. That's not on the defense. That's on Flacco and the offense.

Just like the Ravens hopes for the rest of the season.

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Posted on: October 4, 2011 12:03 pm
Edited on: October 5, 2011 1:05 pm
 

NFL Winners/Losers and experts live chat



Posted by Will Brinson



The world is a far better place when there are clear and distinct delineations between who is a winner and who is a loser. Since actual football records only do so much of that for us, let's dive into who's winning and who's losing a quarter of the way into the 2011 NFL season.

BUT FIRST -- we need to talk. No, seriously, let's chat -- starting at 1:00 pm ET on Wednesday. You can tell Pete Prisco his Power Rankings are awful, ask fantasy questions or just yell at me for not including [insert your favorite player's name here] in the winners list below. Either way, come on by.



WINNERS
Carolina Panthers: Yes, the Panthers are 1-3 and that is not what you would call winning. But this season, thanks solely to the early emergence of Cam Newton, is already eleventy billion times better than 2010, when the Panthers went 2-14. In fact, I'd argue that Carolina could lose out the rest of their schedule -- and they could! -- and it would be a better season than last year, when they despondently limped to the worst record in the NFL. There are plenty of arguments to be made against Newton's performance thus far (namely: he's posting some garbage-time stats and he's made plenty of rookie mistakes), but there's little doubt that Carolina landed themselves a franchise quarterback, and did so at a very reasonable cost.

Detroit Lions: This is a case where the record actually does match up with the placement. Matthew Stafford could go here, as he's proving himself to be a potentially elite quarterback. So could Calvin Johnson, who's vaulted himself into the pole position when it comes to wide receivers in the NFL. And so could Jim Schwartz, as he's clearly the best "new" head coach in the NFL. Which is why the organization as a whole gets the nod, since they've somehow managed to justify the hype and make the early Thanksgiving game -- a Packers-Lions matchup -- more meaningful than it's been in years.

Ryan Fitzpatrick/Fred Jackson: The oft-overlooked offensive duo that drives the Buffalo Bills are in full-on resurgence mode early in the season, with Jackson sitting at fourth in the NFL in rushing yards being the most obvious example. Fitzpatrick's been pretty spectacular himself even if his total passing yardage only ranks him 13th in the NFL. Passing yards can be misleading anyway -- he's thrown nine touchdowns to three interceptions and completed 63.4 percent of his passes. Most importantly, the Buffalo Bills are 3-1, something no one saw coming. They were so hot at one point this season that Fitzpatrick was impossible to book for an interview this season and both he and Jackson are working their way towards new, big-money contracts.

Matt Hasselbeck: Mentioned it in Sorting the Sunday Pile, but Hasselbeck is seeing a serious return to dominance as a result of his move to Tennessee. He's got 1,152 yards in just four games -- last season he barely crossed over 3,000 in 14. His average yards per pass is all the way up to 8.9, and his passing yards per game, 288, is currently the highest of his career. It helps to play for a coach that puts an emphasis on the offensive line, of course, and is willing to keep blockers at home in order to make sure Hasselbeck doesn't get touched and is able to throw the ball deep.

Darren Sproles: Arguably "the Saints" could be on this list ... just for landing Sproles. Has a guy ever fit what Sean Payton wants to do better than the diminutive Kansas State-star-turned-Chargers specialist? We used to think that Reggie Bush was the king of Payton's offensive scheming, and he did fit what the offensive guru loves to do, but Sproles, with better big-play burst, is the perfect addition to the already explosive Saints.

Gary Kubiak: First of all, kudos to the Texans for correctly playing the 2011 offseason. We've said this before, but they failed to draft for secondary help, which seemed weird, but now looks genius, especially since they went out and signed Johnathan Joseph in free agency. He's been a difference maker for Houston, and not just because he represents better value than Nnamdi Asomugha already. Kubes, on the other hand, is sitting at 3-1 and has a pretty clear path to a division title, the Titans success notwithstanding. Obviously the Texans aren't locked into the 2011 playoffs just yet, but their chances are looking pretty good right now, and that'll do a lot to justify his return for this season.

Matt Forte: Another topic in this past week's SSP, Forte is mauling defenses this year -- even if they are the Panthers! -- and forcing the Bears to pay him this offseason. For whatever reason, Chicago believed that Forte wasn't worth the cash and didn't pony up before 2011 began. That's fine, and that's their prerogative. But if they want to keep him, Forte's success this year is going to make it expensive.

NFL Fans: In just a few hectic weeks, fans of football went from "OMG, we might not get football at all this year" to "OMG, football is more exciting to watch than at any period of time, ever." We've seen scoring cranked up, we've seen incredible storylines (Lions, Bills, oh my), we've seen incredible comebacks (four 20-pointers in the last two weeks) and we've seen no truly noticeable ill effects of the missed offseason. If there are any complaints, it might be the new kickoff rules and the lack of consistency on replays. The former everyone who's not over now will be over by the end of the year, and the latter can be fixed. It's a good time to be an NFL fan.

LOSERS
Todd Haley: That Haley ended the quarter-season mark on a high note, with a victory over Minnesota, is a good thing. Otherwise the Chiefs might be starting at an 0-4 start and his seat would be somehow be hotter. It's really an unfathomable dropoff from winning the division in 2010. Haley's been victimized by a lot of key injuries -- Eric Berry, Tony Moeaki and Jamaal Charles all went down for the year -- but things weren't all that good with the win against Minny, as Haley managed to get in a screaming match with Matt Cassel.

Tony Romo: It amazes me that Romo can't do anything right. Or, maybe, he can't avoid whatever he does being scrutinized to the nth degree. After Week 1, when he threw a terrible pick against the Jets that cost him the game, he was a goat. Then he injured his ribs against the 49ers, led the Cowboys to victory and he was a hero. Then he played with busted ribs against the Redskins, overcame his entire team stinking the joint up and morphed into a different person that we knew.  Then came the Lions loss. Romo tossed back-to-back picks that Detroit took to the house and everyone hopped off the "I heart Romo" bandwagon and back on the "Choker" train. It's not fair to Romo because it's not all his fault, but none of that matters to anyone that applies the labels.

Ben Roethlisberger: For years, the Steelers have managed to succeed despite a porous offensive line. That's mainly because Roethlisberger's strength is keeping a play alive by being a physical beast. But even he's struggling to fight through the Steelers inability to block, and suddenly Pittsburgh's in a precarious position at 2-2 with Roethlisberger banged up. Of course, he missed time for non-injury reasons last year, and he also suffered through injuries and the Steelers line was also terrible last season. Still, it's hard to fathom Roethlisberger staying healthy if he keeps getting destroyed at this rate.

Kyle Orton/Donovan McNabb: Because quarterbacks seem to be succeeding at an earlier stage than ever before, there's immediate cries for the next guy any time a veteran struggles. Orton and McNabb, neither of whom is putting up great numbers thus far in 2011, are the best examples because of the two guys -- Tim Tebow and Christian Ponder, respectively -- who sit behind them. Both Orton and McNabb are slightly under 60 percent in terms of completion percentage this season, and while neither one is lighting up the scoreboard with touchdown passes and passing yardage, it's important to remember that one (Orton) is running a John Fox offense and the other (McNabb) is on a team with Adrian Peterson.

Juan Castillo: The Eagles shipped out Sean McDermont because Jim Johnson's shadow was too much to overcome. And then they brought in Castillo, who coached Philly's offensive line for 12 years. Yes, that's offensive line. Given that the Eagles added both Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in the offseason, it looked like it might not matter. But Castillo's new-age "don't tackle" defense hasn't gone over well against an opponent yet, and the Eagles find themselves 1-3 primarily because they simply can't stop anyone. Sure, they're tough to pass on ... unless you have a good tight end. And if you don't, and you happen to have a decent power running game, you don't even have to worry about it.

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Posted on: August 10, 2011 10:41 am
 

Jones-Drew has no plans to apologize to Cutler

Posted by Ryan Wilson

It all started in January, barely halfway through the NFC Championship Game between the Packers and Bears. Chicago quarterback Jay Culter left early in the third quarter with a knee injuy and didn't return. The problem: he didn't appeared injured enough for some fans, media and players. (Turns out, Cutler had Grade II MCL sprain so, yeah, it was plenty serious.) As a result, Twitter promptly blew up with thoughts from, well, everybody.

One of the most memorable tweets came courtesy of Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew: “Hey I think the urban meyer rule is effect right now... When the going gets tough........QUIT.. … All I'm saying is that he can finish the game on a hurt knee... I played the whole season on one...”

Surprisingly, that didn't go over well in Chicago. A few days later, Jones-Drew clarified his remarks to the Associated Press: “I never attacked him, called him soft or a sore loser. I never questioned his toughness. I think people took my joke out of context. I was taking at shot at Florida fans."

Fast-forward seven months and Jones-Drew was still being asked about the incident. In an interview with NFL Network, the Jags running back says he hasn't seen Cutler and he has no plans on apologizing if he does.

“I don’t regret anything I do,” Jones-Drew said, according to PFT.com. “You think about everything you put out there. I’m not going to be one of those guys to say, ‘I shouldn’t have done it.’ Because I did it. I knew what I was doing when I tweeted it. I just didn’t know that many people were following me at the time.”

We believe this is commonly referred to as the "Anthony Weiner defense" (made popular by Kenny Britt earlier this offseason).

“I haven’t gotten a chance to (talk to Cutler), but I wouldn’t apologize because I didn’t do anything wrong, I don’t think,” Jones-Drew said. “I didn’t commit a crime. I didn’t kill anyone or rape anyone or anything like that. I mean, I stated my opinion, and it seems like you get more backlash for that than committing a real crime in some sense. I feel like I didn’t do anything wrong, I just said what everybody else was thinking.”

Jones-Drew is right about that last part. Everybody was thinking that as they watched Cutler on the bench, appearing, well, uninjured.

But hey, it wasn't like MJD was the only guy making jokes about Cutler in recent months.

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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com